A Letter from the Coordinating Council Regarding COVID-19 and Worship Gatherings
November 19, 2020
Indian Nations Presbytery Minister Members and Clerks of Session,
The COVID situation in Oklahoma continues to decline amid a spike in cases nationwide. What began as a steady increase in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths has become the exponential growth that public health experts fear most. The virus is spreading in our communities, and our communities have largely not responded, allowing the situation to grow worse every day.
Information provided to presbyteries paints a grim picture. Presbytery and Synod leaders regularly have been briefed by Lisa Allgood, an immunologist who is transitional presbyter in Cincinnati. A copy of a recent report is attached.
As a result of the current situation, the Coordinating Council strongly urges those churches in the presbytery who are gathering for in-person worship to suspend such activities for the time being and, if possible, rely on virtual worship.
For pastors conducting services at churches who decline to suspend in-person worship, Indian Nations Presbytery affirms this policy statement, adopted by Blackhawk Presbytery in Illinois:
"… A long-standing article of faith in the Presbyterian Church (USA) is that ‘God alone is Lord of the conscience.’ In keeping with that principle, if a pastor … is asked to perform a service or attend an activity which they feel could potentially lead to his or her contracting Covid-19, they shall be given the right to either abstain from that service or to find a safer alternative means of performing that service. No Session or congregation may use such an incident as grounds for changing that pastor’s employment by the congregation in any way."
Remember, too, that when a church meets in person, it’s not just the attendees who are impacted. People clean the space, prepare for the service, drive others, and carry out other roles. We need to be mindful that our actions, even well-meaning ones like going to church, impact others.
Though part of the call to Charlie Smith as Interim Presbytery Pastor is to visit churches and attend Sunday services, travel is suspended until year’s end. Presbytery staff also may work from home. We will keep members informed of any disruptions in office hours or activities.
We all are weary and fatigued after dealing with this pandemic for 8 months. The latest spike in cases is another difficult blow in an already difficult year. But now is not the time to let our guard down. Isolation, social distancing, avoiding gatherings, masks and hand-washing still need to be an integral and responsible part of our lives.
We are optimistic over the news of a potential vaccine to fight COVID. We are also confident that in these constantly changing and challenging times, we will continue to innovate. We will continue to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And, as ever, we will get through this together by supporting one another.
Indian Nations Presbytery
Rev. Rick Baggett, HR
Rev. Tracy L. Evans, Stated Clerk, Memorial Presbyterian Church, Norman
Rev. Ron Fike
Melissa Gill RE, Committee on Nomination and Representation, Moderator
Blake Harrison RE, Region 5, Church of the Savior, OKC
Sue Johnson RE, Region 1, First Presbyterian Church, Hobart
Charlotte Lovett RE, INP Moderator, Memorial Presbyterian Church, Norman
Rev. John McKinnon, Coordinating Council, Vice Moderator, First Presbyterian Church, OKC
Martin McNeese RE, Committee on Ministry, Moderator, Santa Fe Presbyterian Church, Edmond
Mike Mize RE, Committee on Preparation for Ministry, Westminster Presbyterian Church, OKC
Deanna Piercy RE, Region 4, First Presbyterian Church, Ada
Rev. Charlie Smith, Interim Presbytery Pastor, Indian Nations Presbytery
Craig Stanley RE, Committee on Administration, Moderator, Westminster Presbyterian Church, OKC
Coronavirus Information and Helpful Links
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the churches in Oklahoma. In many communities, the daily positive case numbers are at record numbers. Hospital ICUs are near or at capacity. Many schools are reversing course and being forced back to online learning because of out of control community spread of the virus in classrooms and halls. As of today, Oklahoma has over 20,000 active cases of the Coronavirus and seven-day average over 2,000 positive cases a day.
While wearing a mask and washing hands has helped to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, those measures were not mandated in all areas or practiced in all churches. Now we are set to navigate this “second wave” of increased cases as we enter the holiday season. With cases spiking before the holiday season, there is growing concern about the spread of the virus during and after Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas as families, friends, and communities come into greater contact. These concerning numbers are expected to continue their rise. Read More HERE.
COVID-19 and the Flu
The flu season will complicate an already tenuous situation as churches navigate COVID-19. COVID-19 and the flu are both respiratory illnesses and share common symptoms. They are also differ in important ways. While experts learn more every day about the novel coronavirus, see what we already know about flu vs COVID-19 by clicking HERE
COVID-19 and the Flu
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has gathered all of the denominational resources together into one updated webpage for easier viewing and reference. Please take a look at all the available resources HERE.
The Presbyterian Foundation has created a one-stop, simple to read resource for all things related to COVID-19 legislation. Find out more HERE.
Free 24-Hour Support Line
Cigna is offering a separate 24-hour toll-free help line, to support resiliency during this time of high stress and anxiety.
If you are aware of any retired member or an employee who is not eligible for the EAP, please let them know they have access to Cigna by calling 866-912-1687 to connect with qualified clinicians, including licensed social workers, profressional counselors, and psychologists, who can provide support and guidance.